Daphne du Maurier

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Daphne du Maurier
Young Daphne du Maurier.jpg
The young Daphne du Maurier (about 1930)
Born (1907-05-13)13 May 1907
London, England, United Kingdom
Died 19 April 1989(1989-04-19) (aged 81)
Fowey, Cornwall, England, United Kingdom
Resting place Kilmarth
Occupation Novelist
Nationality British
Period 1931–89
Genre Literary fiction
Notable works Rebecca
The Scapegoat
"The Birds"
Notable awards National Book Award (U.S.)
Spouse Frederick Browning
(1932-1965; his death)
Children 3
Relatives Sir Gerald du Maurier (father)
Muriel Beaumont (mother)
George du Maurier (grandfather)

Literature portal
Daphne (right) with her mother Muriel Beaumont and her sisters Angela (left) and Jeanne (centre), c. 1912.[1]
Cannon Hall, Hampstead, drawn by A.R. Quinton, 1911, where Daphne spent much of her childhood.

Dame Daphne du Maurier, Lady Browning DBE (/ˈdæfni d ˈmɒri./; 13 May 1907 – 19 April 1989) was a British author and playwright.

Although classed as a romantic novelist, her stories seldom feature a conventional happy ending, and have been described as ‘moody and resonant’ with overtones of the paranormal. These bestselling works were not at first taken seriously by the critics, but have since earned an enduring reputation for storytelling craft. Many have been successfully adapted into films, including the novels Rebecca and Jamaica Inn, and the short stories The Birds and Don't Look Now.

Her father was the actor Gerald du Maurier, and her grandfather was the artist and writer George du Maurier.

Early life[edit]

Daphne du Maurier was born in London, the second of three daughters of the prominent actor-manager Sir Gerald du Maurier and actress Muriel Beaumont (maternal niece of journalist, author, and lecturer William Comyns Beaumont).[2] Her grandfather was the author and Punch cartoonist George du Maurier, who created the character of Svengali in the novel Trilby. Her elder sister Angela also became a writer, and her younger sister Jeanne was a painter.

Her family connections helped her in establishing her literary career, and du Maurier published some of her early work in Beaumont's Bystander magazine. Her first novel, The Loving Spirit, was published in 1931.

Du Maurier was also the cousin of the Llewelyn Davies boys, who served as J.M. Barrie's inspiration for the characters in the play Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up. As a young child, she met many of the brightest stars of the theatre, thanks to the celebrity of her father. On meeting Tallulah Bankhead, she was quoted as saying that the actress was the most beautiful creature she had ever seen.[citation needed]

Novels, short stories, and biographies[edit]

Literary critics have sometimes berated du Maurier's works for not being "intellectually heavyweight" like those of George Eliot or Iris Murdoch.[citation needed] By the 1950s, when the socially and politically critical "angry young men" were in vogue, her writing was felt by some[who?] to belong to a bygone age.[citation needed] Today, she has been reappraised as a first-rate storyteller, a mistress of suspense. Her ability to recreate a sense of place is much admired,[by whom?] and her work remains popular worldwide.[citation needed] For several decades she was the most popular author for library book borrowings.[citation needed] The author Sarah Waters states on her website, "I'd like to have written Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier. Du Maurier's writing is a bit ropey at times, but her novels and stories are fantastically moody and resonant, and Rebecca, in particular, just feels so fundamentally right – like a myth, or a fairy tale."[3]

The novel Rebecca (1938), which has been adapted for stage and screen several times, is generally regarded[by whom?] as her masterpiece. In the U.S. she won the National Book Award for favourite novel of 1938, voted by members of the American Booksellers Association.[4] In the UK, it was listed at number 14 of the "nation's best loved novel" on the BBC survey The Big Read.[5] One of her strongest influences here was Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. Her fascination with the Brontë family is also apparent in The Infernal World of Branwell Brontë, her biography of the troubled elder brother to the Brontë girls. The fact that their mother had been Cornish no doubt added to her interest.[citation needed]

Other significant works include The Scapegoat, The House on the Strand, and The King's General. The last is set in the middle of the first and second English Civil Wars. Though written from the Royalist perspective of her adopted Cornwall, it gives a fairly neutral view of this period of history.

Several of her other novels have also been adapted for the screen, including Jamaica Inn (Best Picture Oscar 1941), Frenchman's Creek, Hungry Hill, and My Cousin Rachel (1951). The Hitchcock film The Birds (1963) is based on a treatment of one of her short stories, as is the film Don't Look Now (1973). Of the films, du Maurier often complained that the only ones she liked were Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca and Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now. Hitchcock's treatment of Jamaica Inn involved a complete re-write of the ending to accommodate the ego of its star, Charles Laughton. Du Maurier also felt that Olivia de Havilland was wrongly cast as the anti-heroine of My Cousin Rachel.[6] Frenchman's Creek fared rather better in a lavish Technicolor version released in 1944. Du Maurier later regretted her choice of Alec Guinness as the lead in the film of The Scapegoat, which she partly financed.[7] In 1989, Indian director V. K. Pavithran adapted her short story "No Motive" from the collection The Rendezvous and Other Stories (1980) for his critically acclaimed mystery thriller Utharam (Answer).

Du Maurier was often categorised as a "romantic novelist" (a term she deplored),[8] though most of her novels, with the notable exception of Frenchman's Creek, are quite different from the stereotypical format of a Georgette Heyer novel. Du Maurier's novels rarely have a happy ending, and her brand of romanticism is often at odds with the sinister overtones and shadows of the paranormal she so favoured. In this light, she has more in common with the "sensation novels" of Wilkie Collins and others, which she admired.[7]

Du Maurier's novel Mary Anne (1954) is a fictionalised account of the story of her great-great-grandmother, Mary Anne Clarke née Thompson (1776–1852), who, from 1803 to 1808, was mistress of Frederick Augustus, Duke of York and Albany (1763–1827). He was the "Grand Old Duke of York" of the nursery rhyme, a son of King George III and brother of the later King George IV.

The central character of her last novel, Rule Britannia, is an aging and eccentric actress who was based on Gertrude Lawrence and Gladys Cooper (to whom it is dedicated).

It was in her short stories that she was able to give free rein to the harrowing and terrifying side of her imagination; "The Birds", "Don't Look Now", "The Apple Tree" and "The Blue Lenses" are exquisitely crafted tales of terror that shocked and surprised her audience in equal measure. As her biographer Margaret Forster wrote: 'She satisfied all the questionable criteria of popular fiction, and yet satisfied too the exacting requirements of "real literature".' Her stories read like classic tales of terror and suspense but written with a sure touch for character, imagery and suggestive meaning. They are a borderline case of where pop becomes art.

A more recent discovery of a collection of du Maurier's forgotten short stories, written when the author was 21, provides an intriguing insight into the writer she was to become. One of them, "The Doll", is a suspense-driven gothic tale about a young woman's obsession with a mechanical male sex doll; it has been deemed by du Maurier's son Kits Browning to be "quite ahead of its time".[9]

Perhaps more than at any other time, du Maurier was anxious as to how her bold new writing style would be received, not just by her readers (and to some extent her critics, though by then she had grown wearily accustomed to their often lukewarm reviews) but also by her immediate circle of family and friends.

In later life, she wrote non-fiction, including several biographies that were well received. This, no doubt, came from a deep-rooted desire to be accepted as a serious writer, comparing herself to her neighbor, A.L. Rowse, the celebrated historian and essayist, who lived a few miles away from her house near Fowey.

Also of interest are the family novels/biographies that du Maurier wrote of her own ancestry, of which Gerald, the biography of her father, was most lauded. Later she wrote The Glass-Blowers, which traces her French ancestry and gives a vivid depiction of the French Revolution. The du Mauriers is a sequel of sorts describing the somewhat problematic ways in which the family moved from France to England in the 19th century and finally Mary Anne, the novel based on the life of a notable, and infamous, English ancestor – her great-grandmother Mary Anne Clarke, former mistress of Frederick, Duke of York.

Her final novels reveal just how far her writing style had developed. The House on the Strand (1969) combines elements of "mental time-travel", a tragic love affair in 14th century Cornwall, and the dangers of using mind-altering drugs. Her final novel, Rule Britannia, written post-Vietnam, plays with the resentment of English people in general and Cornish people in particular at the increasing dominance of the U.S.

In late 2006, a previously unknown work titled And His Letters Grew Colder was discovered by Ann Willmore of Bookends of Fowey.[citation needed] This was estimated to have been written in the late 1920s and takes the form of a series of letters tracing an adulterous, passionate affair from initial ardor to deflated acrimony.


Daphne du Maurier wrote three plays. Her first was a successful adaptation of her novel Rebecca, which opened at the Queen's Theatre in London on 5 March 1940 in a production by George Devine, starring Celia Johnson and Owen Nares as the De Winters and Margaret Rutherford as Mrs. Danvers. At the end of May, following a run of 181 performances, the production transferred to the Strand Theatre, with Jill Furse taking over as Mrs. De Winter and Mary Merrall as Danvers, with a further run of 176 performances.

In the summer of 1943, she began writing the autobiographically inspired drama The Years Between about the unexpected return of a senior officer, thought killed in action, who finds that his wife has taken his seat as Member of Parliament and has started a romantic relationship with a local farmer. It was first staged at the Opera House, Manchester in 1944 and then transferred to London, opening at Wyndham's Theatre on 10 January 1945, starring Nora Swinburne and Clive Brook. The production, directed by Irene Hentschel, became a long-running hit, completing 617 performances. After 60 years of neglect, it was revived by Caroline Smith at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond upon Thames on 5 September 2007, starring Karen Ascoe and Mark Tandy.[10]

Better known is her third play, September Tide, about a middle-aged woman whose bohemian artist son-in-law falls for her. The central character of Stella was originally based on Ellen Doubleday and was merely what Ellen might have been in an English setting and in a different set of circumstances. Again directed by Irene Hentschel, it opened at the Aldwych Theatre on 15 December 1948 with Gertrude Lawrence as Stella, enjoying a run of 267 performances before closing at the beginning of August 1949. It was to lead to a close personal and social relationship between Daphne and Gertrude.

Since then, September Tide has received occasional revivals, most recently at the Comedy Theatre in London in January 1994, starring film and stage actress Susannah York as Stella with Michael Praed as the saturnine young artist. Reviewing the production for the Richmond & Twickenham Times, critic John Thaxter wrote: "The play and performances delicately explore their developing relationship. And as the September gales batter the Cornish coast, isolating Stella's cottage from the outside world, she surrenders herself to the truth of a moment of unconventional tenderness."

In 2005, September Tide adapted by Moya O'Shea and produced and directed by Tracey Neale was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and starred Paula Wilcox as Stella and Jonathan Firth as Evan. It has since been repeated on BBC 7.

Personal names, titles and honours[edit]

She was known as Daphne du Maurier from 1907 to 1932 when she became Mrs Frederick Browning while still writing as Daphne du Maurier (1932–46). She was titled Lady Browning; Daphne du Maurier (1946–69). Later, on being created Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, she became Lady Browning; Dame Daphne du Maurier DBE (1969–89).

When in the Queen's Birthday Honours List for June 1969 Daphne du Maurier was created a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire,[11] she accepted but never used the title. According to Margaret Forster, she told no one about the honour, so that even her children learned of it only from the newspapers. "She thought of pleading illness for the investiture, until her children insisted it would be a great day for the older grandchildren. So she went through with it, though she slipped out quietly afterwards to avoid the attention of the press."[12]

Plagiarism accusations[edit]

Shortly after Rebecca was published in Brazil, critic Álvaro Lins (pt) and other readers pointed out many resemblances to the 1934 book, A Sucessora (The Successor), by Brazilian writer Carolina Nabuco. According to Nabuco and her editor, not only the main plot, but also situations and entire dialogues had been copied.[13]

Du Maurier denied having copied Nabuco's book, as did her publisher, pointing out that the plot elements used in Rebecca said to have been plagiarized were quite common.[14]

The controversy was the subject of an article published November 6, 2002 in The New York Times.[15] The article said that according to Nabuco's memoirs, when the Hitchcock film Rebecca was first shown in Brazil, United Artists wanted Nabuco to sign a document saying that all the similarities were merely a coincidence. The Brazilian writer refused to sign it.[16]

The Times quoted Nabuco's memoirs as saying, "When the film version of 'Rebecca' came to Brazil, the producers' lawyer sought out my lawyer to ask him that I sign a document admitting the possibility of there having been a mere coincidence. I would be compensated with a quantity described as 'of considerable value.' I did not consent, naturally."[15] The Times article said, "Ms. Nabuco had translated her novel into French and sent it to a publisher in Paris, who she learned was also Ms. du Maurier's only after Rebecca became a worldwide success. The novels have identical plots and even some identical episodes."[15]

Nina Auerbach claimed in her book Daphne du Maurier, Haunted Heiress that du Maurier had read the Brazilian book when the first drafts were sent to be published in Britain and based her famous bestseller on it.[citation needed]

The author Frank Baker believed that du Maurier had plagiarised his novel The Birds (1936) in her short story "The Birds" (1952). Du Maurier had been working as a reader for Baker's publisher Peter Davies at the time he submitted the book. When Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds was released in 1963, based on du Maurier's story, Baker considered, but was advised against, pursuing costly litigation against Universal Studios.[17][18]

There are similarities between her 1959 short story Ganymede (in the anthology The Breaking Point) and the theme of Thomas Mann's semi-autobiographical 1912 novella Death in Venice.

Personal life[edit]

She married Major (later Lieutenant-General) Frederick "Boy" Browning in 1932, with whom she had three children:

Biographers have noted that the marriage was at times somewhat chilly and that du Maurier could be aloof and distant to her children, especially the girls, when immersed in her writing.[19][20] Her husband died in 1965 and soon after Daphne moved to Kilmarth, near Par, which became the setting for The House on the Strand.

Du Maurier has often been painted as a frostily private recluse who rarely mixed in society or gave interviews.[20] An exception to this came after the release of the film A Bridge Too Far, in which her late husband was portrayed in a less-than-flattering light. Du Maurier, incensed, wrote to the national newspapers, decrying what she considered unforgivable treatment.[21] Once out of the glare of the public spotlight, however, many remembered her as a warm and immensely funny person who was a welcoming hostess to guests at Menabilly,[7] the house she leased for many years (from the Rashleigh family) in Cornwall. Letters from Menabilly contains the letters from du Maurier to Oriel Malet over 30 years, with Malet's commentary. (Malet's real name is Auriel Malet Vaughan.)

Secret sexual relationships[edit]

After her death in 1989, references were made to her reputed bisexuality;[19] an affair with Gertrude Lawrence, as well as her attraction to Ellen Doubleday, the wife of her American publisher, were cited.[20] Du Maurier stated in her memoirs that her father had wanted a son;[19] and, being a tomboy, she had naturally wished to have been born a boy. Her father, however, was vociferously homophobic.[citation needed]

In correspondence released by her family for the first time to her biographer, Margaret Forster, du Maurier explained to a trusted few her own unique slant on her sexuality: her personality, she explained, comprised two distinct people – the loving wife and mother (the side she showed to the world) and the lover (a decidedly male energy) hidden to virtually everyone and the power behind her artistic creativity. According to the biography, du Maurier believed the male energy fuelled her creative life as a writer.[22] Forster maintains that it became evident in personal letters revealed after her death, however, that du Maurier's denial of her bisexuality unveiled a homophobic fear of her true nature.[20]

The children of both du Maurier and Gertrude Lawrence have objected strongly to the suggestions about their mothers. Michael Thornton maintained that Forster did not know du Maurier; those who did knew that she was not lesbian, although there was a good deal of 'play-acting'.[23] "It was Menabilly, her "house of secrets", and her father, that remained the enduring loves of her life, not Gertrude Lawrence or Ellen Doubleday."[24]


Du Maurier died on 19 April 1989, aged 81, at her home in Cornwall, which had been the setting for many of her books. Her body was cremated and her ashes scattered at Kilmarth.[11]

Cultural references[edit]

  • English Heritage created controversy in June 2008 when they rejected an application to commemorate her home in Hampstead with a Blue Plaque. In 2011 a plaque was mounted on Cannon Cottage in Well Street, Hampstead, put up by the Heath and Hampstead Society.[25]
  • Daphne du Maurier was one of five "Women of Achievement" selected for a set of British stamps issued in August 1996.
  • In 2013, Daphne du Maurier’s grandson, Ned Browning, released a collection of men's and women's watches based on characters from the novel Rebecca, under the brand name du Maurier Watches.[26]
  • The dialogue of Nikos Nikolaidis' 1987 film Morning Patrol contains excerpts taken from published works authored by Daphne du Maurier.
  • The character of Bedelia Du Maurier in the television series Hannibal was named after du Maurier because its creator Bryan Fuller is a fan of Alfred Hitchcock, who had adapted her book for The Birds.[27]




  • Gerald: A Portrait (1934)
  • The du Mauriers (1937)
  • The Young George du Maurier: a selection of his letters 1860–67 (1951)
  • The Infernal World of Branwell Brontë (1960)
  • Vanishing Cornwall (includes photographs by her son Christian, 1967)
  • Golden Lads: Sir Francis Bacon, Anthony Bacon and their Friends (1975)
  • The Winding Stair: Francis Bacon, His Rise and Fall (1976)
  • Growing Pains – the Shaping of a Writer (a.k.a. Myself When Young – the Shaping of a Writer, 1977)
  • Enchanted Cornwall (1989)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ NPG x44904. National Portrait Gallery. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
  2. ^ du Maurier, Daphne | Richard Kelly (essay date 1987), "The World of the Macabre: The Short Stories," in Daphne du Maurier, Twayne Publishers, 1987, pp. 123–40.
  3. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions". Sarah Waters. Retrieved 8 January 2013. 
  4. ^ "Book About Plants Receives Award: Dr. Fairchild's 'Garden' Work Cited by Booksellers", The New York Times, 15 February 1939, page 20. ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851-2007).
    • Du Maurier participating in the Hotel Astor luncheon by transatlantic telephone from London to New York. She called for writers and distributors to offset, in the literary world, the contemporary trials of civilisation in the political world.
  5. ^ "The Big Read", BBC, April 2003. Retrieved October 18, 2012.
  6. ^ Martyn Shallcross, Daphne du Maurier Country, Bossiney Books.
  7. ^ a b c Oriel Malet (ed.), Letters from Menabilly, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1993.
  8. ^ BBC Interview, 1979.
  9. ^ Bell, Matthew (20 February 2011). "Fan tracks down lost stories of Daphne Du Maurier". The Independent (London). 
  10. ^ John Thaxter, "The Years Between", The Stage, 10 September 2007.
  11. ^ a b Margaret Forster, ‘Du Maurier , Dame Daphne (1907–1989)’, rev., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 19 Jan 2009
  12. ^ Margaret Forster, Daphne du Maurier, Chatto & Windus, 1993, p. 370, ISBN 0-7011-3699-5
  13. ^ Nabuco, Carolina (1985), A Sucessora (6 ed.), Art 
  14. ^ "Bull's-Eye for Bovarys". Time. 2 February 1942. Retrieved 26 October 2007. 
  15. ^ a b c Rohter, Larry (6 November 2002). "Tiger in a Lifeboat, Panther in a Lifeboat: A Furor Over a Novel". The New York Times. 
  16. ^ "Rebecca seria brasileira" [Rebecca would be Brazilian]. Os Filmes (in Portuguese). Archived from the original on 15 September 2007. Retrieved 26 October 2007. 
  17. ^ Fowler, Christopher (27 February 2011), "Invisible ink", The Independent (United Kingdom) (66)  |contribution= ignored (help): discussion of the genesis of The Birds.
  18. ^ "Frank Baker Biography". UK: Frank Baker. Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  19. ^ a b c Conradi, Peter J (1 March 2013). "Women in love: The fantastical world of the du Mauriers". ft.com. Retrieved 3 March 2013. 
  20. ^ a b c d Margaret Forster, Daphne du Maurier: The Secret Life of the Renowned Storyteller, Chatto & Windus.
  21. ^ Judith Cook, Daphne, Bantam Press.
  22. ^ Daphne du Maurier, Myself When Young, Victor Gollancz.
  23. ^ Michael Thornton, "Daphne's terrible secret", The Mail Online, 11 May 2007
  24. ^ Thornton, Michael (11 May 2007). "Daphne's terrible secret". London: Daily Mail. Retrieved 18 April 2014. 
  25. ^ http://www.hamhigh.co.uk/news/daphne_du_maurier_commemorated_in_hampstead_1_931543
  26. ^ http://www.dumaurierwatches.com/the-collection.html
  27. ^ http://www.avclub.com/article/bryan-fuller-walks-us-through-ihannibalis-debut-se-100760
  28. ^ du Maurier.org. "Early Stories". Dumaurier.org. Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  29. ^ du Maurier.org. "Castle Dor". Dumaurier.org. Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  30. ^ du Maurier.org. "The Birds". Dumaurier.org. Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  31. ^ du Maurier.org. "Not After Midnight". Dumaurier.org. Retrieved 2013-02-26. 

Further reading and other sources[edit]

  • Kelly, Richard (1987). Daphne du Maurier. Boston: Twayne. ISBN 0-8057-6931-5. 
  • Obituary in The Independent 21 April 1989
  • Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, London, 1887– : Du Maurier, Dame Daphne (1907–1989); Browning, Sir Frederick Arthur Montague (1896–1965); Frederick, Prince, Duke of York and Albany (1763–1827); Clarke, Mary Anne (1776?–1852).
  • Du Maurier, Daphne, Mary Anne, Victor Gollancz Ltd, London, 1954.
  • Rance, Nicholas. "Not like Men in Books, Murdering Women: Daphne du Maurier and the Infernal World of Popular Fiction." In Clive Bloom (ed), Creepers: British Horror and Fantasy in the Twentieth Century. London and Boulder CO: Pluto Press, 199, pp. 86–98.

External links[edit]